The Don Quixote Piece
"And Pam said: 'I could teach it to someone else and have you stand there and watch. You're a quick learner.'"
"God," said Lucia the French girl.
"It's two weeks before the show. Two weeks before the show and she has a dancer limp out in the middle of rehearsal unable to walk. And she's saying, 'I have a solo I need to teach you tomorrow.'"
"And then the next morning she talked to Mike and put me in that little duet instead, the one with Tatiana, in the second act..."
"Yeah...the jumping one?... the jumping one! She tried to teach it to us but I was limping through it the whole time. It's my tendons. Remember at Ohio when that happened, during that Ailey piece. I know it was my tendons because when I got home Jacob attacked my foot with those hands of his and they started loosening up and I could walk again."
"Yeah. It was at the ball of my foot. This tendon here." And Beth modeled her hand in proxy. "This one was very knotted up. It was stretched so thin that if I had kept walking on it it would have snapped. But Jacob managed to loosen it up for me. Otherwise I wouldn't have made it through the ten minutes of that jumping farce, to have it knot up again, and then to have to tell her I was finished."
Beth halted. Beth sipped through a straw from the margarita glass. She studied the orts in the plate of fried mushrooms she had just so ravenously consumed, the plate that Lucia the French girl had just so hungrily watched her consume. The two of them sat in an airport lounge, Lucia's leavings of lettuce. They were both alert and energized at Lucia's sudden unplanned return.
"Well," Lucia the French girl said. "I am sorry."
"But what hands, no?"
"Yeah, for real."
"Listen to me, my Beth, there is no man existing that is made of stone."
And Beth nodded, smiling. "Least of all mine." And she said this lightly still, still in the insouciant vein of describing a trauma that has passed and been assimilated. "You've seen how he gets. About ideas mostly, but..."
"But...there are no buts," Lucia interjected firmly. "Think about it, my Beth. When has he been tested, this man of yours? When have these ideas of his been challenged. Look, is it not possible that these ideas are nothing more than abstract ideas, theoretical, a pile of ideas over which he thinks, but that which never have to face reality? Think about it, my Beth. When have these ideas of his faced a real woman of pink skin, a real woman of warm blood?"
And Beth's light mood clouded. She studiously moved aside the wide-mouthed glass. She gazed perplexedly into Lucia's glinting green eyes. Then she looked sidelong to the bar, signaling suddenly for the fleshy waitress. This was not something Beth had ever really considered, had ever really thought to consider. She felt piqued by Lucia the French girl suddenly. But in her fleeting resentment for her friend she plowed through the thrust and toward a parry. She would silence her with a proof! And searching...peering into Lucia's glinting eyes...Beth found...none. She found, instead, exactly what Lucia the French girl had posited: That she had always reveled in the idea that her mate was impregnable, that he was somehow immune to temptation because of his philosophy and self-discipline; but that, no; no, his self- discipline and philosophy had never really been challenged. Suddenly, this self-discipline and philosophy seemed to her less noble. Suddenly, her resentment for her friend yawed toward anger. She would confess none of this to Lucia.
"Did you not read The Ophidia?" she finally rebutted, tight-lipped.
Lucia the French girl nodded. "Yes. But real? Was it real or something only from his imagination?"
"It was real, but before we married," she admitted. "And there have been some poems since about this paradox of beauty of his."
"Then the answer is no?" Lucia pressed.
Beth was beginning to hate her.
The fleshy waitress appeared.
"Two espressos, please," Beth murmured flatly.
The fleshy waitress yessed and removed the orts.
"He appreciates you and the others the way he did that Ingres a few weeks back."
And Beth began fingering for a menthol from the pack lying on the table. She did not reply.
"How is it possible then that you are so sure?" Lucia demanded. "Do not give me this face of perturbation, my Beth. You are affirming something of the superhuman, you see. You cannot offer this to me and expect that I not feel a necessity to question it, to react to it, even to contradict it. And why do you believe so much in this strength of his against temptation? Why do you believe so if you cannot provide to me a single instance of its actuation?"
Beth drew on the cigarette and leaned back and critically eyed her friend. Her hatred dissipated to anger dissipating to pique. For she realized suddenly that this conversation was just as theoretical and abstract as Jacob's philosophy. Part of his approach, in fact, was to avoid temptation so that there would not be tests, so that he would not have to face such challenges. It was courting defeat, he declared, to know your weaknesses well and still expose them.
She said, "He has his ways of avoiding such temptations in the first place," and exhaled. "And he has his ways of dealing with them when they come. And as I said, it has nothing to do with fidelity to me. It is all about his control over himself, his control over his desires. It's his higher self, he says, mastering his lower self. He says that to give in to such a temptation is the spirit submitting to the flesh. In fact, it is not the act itself that is the sin, according to his ideas, but the breakdown of his will, of his self-control. That's what he's so committed to, to his will, not to me. And as I've said. I've seen his will overcome amazing challenges, much greater ones than any woman could offer."
And Lucia the French girl's eyebrows arched at this last contention. She smiled slightly, dubiously; but then, "Very well. Very well," she said in retreat. "It is a very noble philosophy, my Beth. I am in complete accord there. But it does not make of this man of yours something less than a man. And there does not exist nowhere no man made of stone."